FIREBITE, designed by Amy Baker, released on AMC+

December 16th, 2021 by admin

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

FIREBITE, created by Warwick Thornton and Brendan Fletcher, and designed by Amy Baker, has been announced. The eight part vampire series has received rave reviews, particularly The Guardian’s by Luke Buckmaster below. FIREBITE premiers today , 16 December, on AMC+.

FIREBITE review – Warwick Thornton’s exhilarating vampire series will have you hooked

Indigenous vampire hunters fight blood-sucking monsters in this effortlessly cool gorefest shot in sunbaked Coober Pedy

Rob Collins as Firebite protagonist Tyson, who is fighting a war with vampires who can also be taken down by a boomerang to the heart.
Rob Collins plays Firebite protagonist Tyson, who is fighting a war with vampires who were originally unleashed by the first fleet. The monsters can be taken down by a boomerang to the heart. Photograph: Ian Routledge/AMC+

It’s a standard feature of TV shows – particularly ones based in far-flung locations – to insert drone shots near the beginning to provide a geographical overview. The exhilaratingly different eight-part vampire series Firebite, co-created by Warwick Thornton and Brendan Fletcher, includes such shots, with the significant caveat that no amount of overhead images can properly contextualise the location where it was filmed: a town on the edge of existence, situated in the “dark heart” of Australia, synonymous by virtue of its own peculiar existence with things that are hidden and concealed.

This is the South Australian town of Coober Pedy, a thoroughly unusual neck of the woods – well, stretch of the desert – where residents live beneath the surface to escape the blistering heat, in subterranean abodes built by hollowing out space in the hills. Rebadged as “Opal City” in the show, it looks from above a little like Mars, its barren sunbaked surface pockmarked by crater-like holes. A local Indigenous woman warns a bunch of children in the first episode not to go too close to these holes because they’ll “gobble you up”.

More concerning than the holes, however, are the monsters living beneath the surface. As one character puts it: “They’ve been here for centuries, and they finally found the perfect place to live.” By “they” she is of course referring to those with pallid complexions, fanged teeth and rather long life spans, who historically can be killed by wooden stakes. In this refreshingly different take, which combines small reinventions with reframed political perspectives, they can also be taken down by a boomerang to the heart.

For Firebite protagonist Tyson (a charmingly curt Rob Collins) and his adopted daughter Shanika (Shantae Barnes-Cowan) the stakes, so to speak, are not just personal but cultural and political, as they are to all Indigenous Australians within the narrative world. We learn that vampires arrived in the country on the first fleet and began murdering Aboriginal people and seizing their land. A war between the blood suckers and black vampire hunters, dubbed “blood hunters”, has raged ever since, the latter having successfully eradicated all of the former bar one.

He is “The King” (a seething, creepy Callan Mulvey) who has arrived in Opal City for the obvious reasons – it being the vampire’s equivalent of a postcard paradise or dust-clogged Garden of Eden, conveniently devoid of that annoying phenomenon known as “sunlight”. The King’s arrival upends a relatively comfortable routine – notwithstanding a little blood and carnage – for Tyson and Shanika, who patrol the surface and maintain the job of “keeping this mob safe”, existing on the threshold of two worlds, sort of in the community and sort of not.

Directed by Fletcher, Tony Krawitz and Thornton, the show stays above the surface for a while, setting up the human characters with just enough glimpses of the ghouls to remind us they’re around and bearing fangs. Thornton is familiar with filming on this land, having shot a 20-minute short from 2005 there titled The Old Man and the Inland Sea.

Thornton et al opt for some big images: the sign for Opal City for instance casts a long shadow over the burnt brown desert, screaming “cinematic”. But mostly Firebite appears to have been designed to avoid looking beautiful, even in a rustic rough-hewn way, and has a boxed-in rather than expansive look. This is not a grand, eye-watering production like Sweet Country or one that finds visual delight in small elements, like Thornton’s previous TV series The Beach.

Shanika (Shantae Barnes-Cowan) and Tyson (Rob Collins) roam the tunnels beneath the surface of Opal City.
Shanika (Shantae Barnes-Cowan) and Tyson (Rob Collins) roam the tunnels beneath the surface of Opal City. Photograph: Ian Routledge/AMC+

Firebite has a rocky, grungy feel, with dim lighting and a scuzzy junkyard texture reflecting the energy of a show that comes across as effortlessly cool and engaging, and never tries too hard. That effortlessness also comes through in the performances and the dialogue, both at times unexpectedly oscillating into splashes of humour. Take for instance an exchange in the second episode (this review encapsulates the first three) between Tyson and a love interest, who reacts to his presentation of flowers at her door by asking: “Where are these from, servo?” To which he responds: “Nup, cemetery.”

Firebite inserts a few of what might loosely be considered a “cliffhanger”, but it also has a habit of taking us to places where the action isn’t, generally more concerned with context and drama than violent confrontation. It’s impossible to know, three episodes in, whether the show will ultimately resolve conventionally or take us someplace unexpected. It has an off-kilter tone and tempo that’s tough to second-guess – as if, like residents of Opal City or Coober Pedy, the circadian rhythm of its creators has been thrown out of whack.

At this point, however, two things are certain. One: I’m hooked. And two: when genre storytelling mixes with Indigenous perspectives exciting things happen, as we have seen recently in the neo-western Mystery Road, the superhero sci-fi Cleverman, and – outside Australia – the Oklahoma-set Native American comedy Reservation Dogs. All these productions have a strong sense of place, but Firebite is something else. You wouldn’t want every new show to be shot in Coober Pedy – but damn, it works for this one.

 Firebite premieres on 16 December on AMC+.